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Thursday, October 29, 2009

GMVW # 95: "A Generational Divide (the 90's)"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 95:  A Generational Divide (the 90’s)
Song:  Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana
(Songwriters: Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl)
October 29, 2009

Two or three times a year, I find myself having to head to Denver, Colorado for work:  There is a 3-block Federal Center in Lakewood, just west of the city, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Other than Headquarters near Washington D.C. and possibly EROS Data Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the Denver Federal Center is the heart of U.S. Geological Survey activities. It includes training facilities, a state of the art lab, a large conference room, other meeting rooms and a book/map store for the public. There is also an enormous storage area, where you can find nationwide scientific publications; geologic, oceanographic, aerial, satellite and topographic maps; geologic core samples; and other fascinating field discoveries.  So, whether it is a significant meeting, workshop, or training, more often than not, it is held there. 

Such was the case again for me in the spring of 1999.  Although Lakewood has a reputation in the surrounding area as home of the Federal Center (a fair number of people in the vicinity are employed there), on April 20 of that year, Lakewood would be renowned worldwide for something else entirely.  It started as just another long work day on the road.  After wrapping up for the day, and before heading out for dinner with colleagues, I returned to my hotel room to call home.  Out of habit I flicked on the television.  It was then that I began taking in what happened several miles away earlier that afternoon at Columbine High School. Two kids had opened fire on their classmates, killing and injuring many. I flashed back to my lunch break earlier and recalled the sirens that were blaring near and far.  At the time, I did not pay them all that much heed.  Watching the news, however, it was suddenly and shockingly clear what had caused the commotion.

For the next three days it was as if the rest of the world did not exist in the Denver metropolitan area.  The news was all Columbine all the time.  There could have been a catastrophic earthquake in Mexico or a tsunami in Hawaii, and the report may not have made it to the area.  Columbine was that jarring. 

For whatever reason, I followed the tragedy over the subsequent weeks more so than I typically would follow a story of this type.  After honoring a mourning period for the victims, the news outlets began focusing on the perpetrators.  Why did they do it?  No one had an answer. There was discussion on the availability of firearms, the escalation of anger over the preceding years (as recounted by their friends and family), and the earlier arrests and unusual behavior that should have raised warning flags.  But still, the question ‘why’ went unanswered.  It was left up to the rest of us to speculate.

In the early 90’s, I began to feel somewhat disconnected from the incoming Rock n Roll crowd.  The upper tier music continued to evolve in a good way, but my ability to identify with the new scene was fleeting, and it was more than an age gap or the inevitable disconnect that can come with fatherhood: I found the new attitude identified with this mosh pit crowd hard to relate to on a number of levels. I ended up canceling my long standing subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine and removing longtime favorite station WBCN from my radio dial.  Both were making a break as they tried to connect with the new crowd the only way they thought possible: By abandoning the old and embracing the new.  In the process they were losing me.

There was an explanation for my feeling of disconnect, however.  The lengthy period of the Baby Boomer generation standing alone on center stage was coming to an end, giving way to a new one: Generation X (it would take some time for the Boomers to let go.  In fact I think we are still struggling to stay in the limelight).

Some time back in the mid 90’s, I was listening to local (now National) political pundit, Mike Barnacle on CNN, talking about this generation just then coming into its own.  A question was posed to him along the lines of if he had a theory why there was so much anger (or, to use the period term, ‘angst’) and apathy in the air with this new generation. He was scoffing at the notion that Generation X would have anything to complain about.  They had it all, didn’t they?: Involved, hip parents; a plethora of organized sports and other activities; comfortable homes; video games; and cable television with hundreds of channels to choose from. He also managed to throw in a slacker comment or two if I remember correctly.  His message: Stop your bitchin and get off the couch! 

And while I chuckled, I recall thinking that Barnacle was a bit off target. He, like those columnists covering Columbine a few years later, could not get at the root of the problem. Anger and apathy don’t just come out of nowhere.  There’s always a reason for it.  What was confusing at the time was that the anger did not seem to be directed at anything specific, so it was hard to diagnose.  There was no smoking gun like Vietnam, Apartheid or assassinations that were putting some of these Generation X types over the edge.  It was almost like everything was letting them down, including all that they interpreted the prior generations to represent.  The 50’s: “Bubble gum and hula hoops”.  The 60’s: “What the hell was that all about?”  The 70’s: “Ancient history”.  The 80’s: “Yeah, I know all about the 80’s, and look where that got us”.

Questions persist, but I believe much of that Generation X anger/apathy in the 90s came from a void in their lives.  I’m not sure, but I can’t help wondering if many of them were completely lacking in any type of faith guidance whatsoever.  Was there such a lack of a faith focus in their families and communities that the kids had gone astray?  When kids are left to their own devices in this regard, should it be expected that the results don’t usually turn out all that great?  Also, maybe the ‘Me Me Me’ focus of the previous decade was taking its toll.

The good thing for most of the kids at the time was that Rock and Roll remained an outlet.  Grunge music in particular, which emanated out of Seattle, was solid.  So much so, that Neil Young jumped on board for the ride and eventually established himself as a godfather figure of sorts.  The music coming out of Seattle was angry, but much of it connected with elements of truth.

I’ve always been of the belief that if a song is great, it must have an underlying element of truth, and also faith.  The connection doesn’t have to be obvious.  Rock songs like ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and ‘Jokerman’ hold up rather well to traditional religious songs like ‘Ave Maria’, and ‘Amazing Grace’ when it comes to the depth by which I can be moved while listening.  As mentioned for an earlier Gem, Brian Wilson believed there was divine intervention in his song writing.  Although few others have made this claim/admission, I’m thinking it happens much more frequently.  After all, Brian Wilson’s songs are great, but no better than many of his contemporaries, or those from other eras/genres like Mozart, Al Jolson, and Frank Sinatra.

That would include all 94 of the Gems that have rolled out so far.  This week’s Gem, ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana, is no exception.  Despite the generational differences, I still know a good thing when I hear it.  Kurt Cobain may have had emotional problems, but that did not stop him from making some great music.  Admirers of the art of Van Gough could attest to the fact that tortured souls can still make vital contributions to society.  The most amazing thing to me about Cobain is his vocals: How could someone as scrawny and apathetic looking as he project his voice in that way?  I’m still dumbfounded when I listen.

On a personal level, the 90’s were unparalleled.  Two names explain this: Charlotte and Peter, both of whom were born during World Cup events: Summer ’94 and summer ’98 respectively (making Brazilian World Cup Soccer commentator, Galvao Bueno’s exclamation ‘GOOOOAAAAAALLLLL!!!!’ all the more meaningful).

Immediately below is a list of ‘Great Song Names’.  Below that is the Gem video and a number of other videos from the 90’s.  Below these are the lyrics to ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’.

Next week: The 00’s and ‘Great Lyric One Liners.  Input is welcome.

I’ll close with a reminder any committed USGS employee would deliver:

Know your watershed!

- Pete

Great Song Names
1. ‘Roll over Beethoven’ (There’s a new kid in town)
2. ‘Are You Experienced’ (Excuse me, that’s a personal question)
3. ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’, ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’, ‘Queen Jane Approximately’ (Four way tie: It appears Dylan’s creativity starts with the naming of his songs)
4. ‘Wah Wah’ (Today’s interpretation: What-ever!)
5. ‘Cortez the Killer’ (Stop beating around the bush, Neil)
6. ‘I Can’t Drive 55!’ (Hagar heisted this quote from one of Dave’s police blotters)
7. ‘Crashing by Design’ (You just have to be resigned)
8. ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ (A plug for this week’s Gem)
9. ‘Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey’ (And the monkey is beginning to look suspicious)
10. ‘The Village Green Preservation Society’ (No one can peg the nuances of the British quite as succinctly as Ray Davies)
11. ‘Cobwebs and Strange’ (One of only two Moon-penned Who songs as far as I know)

Gem Music Video of the Week ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’

Mazzie Star ‘Fade Into You’ (Neil Young was blown away by this song, so much so, that he made a trek into Boston to catch her at a club)

Sound Garden ‘Black Hole Sun’ (freaky video)

Pearl Jam ‘Even Flow’ (one  of my favorite Rock stories was reading about Eddie Veder hucking spit balls in the direction of Ticketmaster employees during a Rock n Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.  Ahhh, Ticketmaster: I could go off on a tangent on that subject).

Midnight Oil ‘Blue Sky Mine’ (Australia with a conscience)

Jacob Dylan ‘One Headlight’ (Like father, like son)

Counting Crows ‘Mr. Jones’ (With the great line “I want to be Bob Dylan, Mr. Jones wishes he was someone a little funkier”)

Alanis Morissette ‘Ironic’ (A bizarre cab ride, to say the least)

Tears for Fears ‘Sowing the Seeds of Love’ (Trying to emulate a Beatles song, and succeeding)

Lyrics to ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’
Load up on guns and bring your friends
It's fun to lose and to pretend
She's over-bored and self-assured
Oh no, I know a dirty word

Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello

With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us

A mulatto, an albino
A mosquito, my libido
Yeah, hey, yay

I'm worse at what I do best
And for this gift I feel blessed
Our little group has always been
And always will until the end

Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello

With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us

A mulatto, an albino
A mosquito, my libido
Yeah, hey, yay

And I forget just why I taste
Oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile
I found it hard, it's hard to find
Oh well, whatever, nevermind

Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello

With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us

A mulatto, an albino
A mosquito, my libido

A denial, a denial
A denial, a denial
A denial, a denial
A denial, a denial
A denial


About the Video: Made for MTV-like video

Video Rating: 1

Best Feedback: Jack

Peter, I'm cc'ing all to congratulate you. This was, in my book, the most inspired write up you have created.  It stuck it's big toe in the cold water of truth, unlike the pontifications of others that continually address the symptoms without dealing with the core cause.  Our generation along with those following are by and large lacking the roadmap to a fulfilled life and understanding the true nature of the human condition...and if I may proffer an opinion to tie off a loose end, I think it was best said by a man who walked the shores of Galillee when he said, "A thief comes in to break, steal and destroy. I come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly", (That it might be full and meaningful).

Best to all!

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